So You're a Social Justice Warrior?
All forms of oppression and bias stem from the same distorted belief system: that one being (or group of beings) is better than another being or group of beings, and therefore has the right to dominate and exploit the 'other'. Once we decide that there is in fact an 'other,' the only question becomes: Where do we draw the line? We maintain that there is no line, and that embracing a more interconnected worldview will help dissolve prejudice. Let us start dismantling the psychology of oppression at the next meal by choosing to do the least amount of harm.
How does speciesism promote oppression?
1. Oppressive systems engage and promote other systems of oppression through violence, coercion, and forcibly taking that which is not ours to take by use of power.
2. Between 1/2 and 3/4 of crops and grain grown around the world, essential food that could go to feeding about one billion people who are starving and malnourished, goes to feed livestock that the wealthy who live in wealthy countries eat instead. One pound of beef takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce, wasting one of our most precious commodities, water, and costing human lives in the process. Animal agriculture has taken over nearly 80 of the Amazonian forests, displacing and threatening native people and their families. Pollutants and toxicants from animal agriculture waste often affects lower income families and their health much more than those in higher socioeconomic groups. One 2005 study conducted in North Carolina found that low-income areas had seven times more hog slaughtering facilities than affluent, predominantly white communities.
3. Many immigrants and low income families work in the poultry processing industry. Yet, few realize that it is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. According to an OSHA report, more than 27 workers a day endure amputations or other injuries severe enough to require hospitalization. Working conditions are horrific and stressful, putting vulnerable groups at risk of PTSD, Covid-19, and illnesses caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
We've detailed below the numerous ways in which speciesism and the animal agricultural systems contradict values associated with social justice. Speciesism is a form of discrimination that promotes all forms of social oppression and inequity. Carnism is a subset of speciesism which is defined as the assumption of human superiority and exceptionalism that promotes bias against animals because they are of a different species.
Carnism is defined by Harvard educated psychologist Dr. Melanie Joy as the invisible belief system, or ideology, that conditions people to eat certain animals. Carnism is a dominant belief system for many inherited from our culture. Despite being rooted in violence and oppression, many have embraced it without question.
Carnism is, essentially, an oppressive system, sharing the same basic structure and relying on the same mentality as other oppressive systems. Although the experience of each set of victims of oppressive systems will always be unique, the systems are structurally similar, and, most importantly, the mentality that enables the oppression is the same. If we hope to create a more compassionate and just society, we must strive to incorporate all forms of oppression into our analysis, including carnism.
Some assume that eating or not eating animals is simply a personal choice. However, when we look more closely, we can appreciate that eating animals is in fact the result of an oppressive system. Consider, for example, how believing that women didn’t deserve the right to vote had less to do with “personal choice” than it did with the faulty assumptions of the patriarchal society, which conditioned people to believe in the inferiority of women.
Personal choice is no longer relevant when there is a victim involved. We don't have a personal choice to abuse a dog or a cat. Yet we as a society spend billions of taxpayer dollars every year, and even more in consumer dollars, supporting a system of horrific abuse. We then wonder why we have so many other problems with bias, prejudice and violence.
The Meat Industry and Racial Discrimination
In July 2020, worker advocacy groups including Food Chain Workers Alliance, Rural Community Workers Alliance, HEAL Food Alliance, American Friends Service Committee – Iowa, Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, and Forward Latino, sued major 'meat processors' for racial discrimination against the workers, who are overwhelmingly minorities. Read the 49 page complaint here.
In 2014, a coalition of environmental organizations filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Civil Rights, arguing that North Carolina’s lax regulations for disposing of hog waste discriminate against communities of color.
In 2005, the Iowa Policy Project found that the highest-poverty areas in North Carolina had more than seven times as many hog farms as affluent communities. And communities of color had five times as many hog farms as predominately white areas.
A study published in 2002 in the peer-reviewed Environmental Health Perspectives journal examined 67 factory farms in Mississippi and found that the majority were located in low-income areas and areas with a high percentage of Black Americans.
A study published in 2002 in the peer-reviewed Environmental Health Perspectives journal examined 67 factory farms in Mississippi and found that the majority were located in low-income areas and areas with a high percentage of Black Americans.
The American Public Health Association has issued a policy statement which urges federal, state, and local governments and public health agencies to impose a moratorium on the construction of new concentrated animal feeding operations (aka CAFOs or factory farms) because of the health risks to workers and those living in surrounding communities.
White workers only account for a small percentage of the total workforce at Tyson Foods and JBS USA (another leading beef and pork 'processor', however, the management is overwhelmingly white.
Slaughterhouses and "meat"-processing facilities symbolize suffering and death for animals and exploitation for workers. Fortunately, we can choose not to support this cycle of exploitation and suffering by simply adopting a lifestyle free from animal products.
"Kill line workers are almost exclusively Black or Latino and sadly that isn't an accident. Systemic racism is embedded in American and world culture but in America this has led to Black men being placed in prison at far higher rates than any other race. Animal ag and slaughterhouses often work with prisons to create work release programs for prisoners with limited job opportunities. Killing animals for products isn't just an exploitation that impacts animals it fuels other forms of exploitation because exploitation is the driving force of these industries."
~Christopher 'Soul' Eubanks, vegan activist
"Part of the business model in the 'meatpacking' industry is to sacrifice worker safety on the altar of profits," says Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA official and now a senior fellow at the National Employment Law Project.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 2014 data that showed repetitive motion injuries among beef and pork processing workers were nearly seven times that of other private industries. And 76 percent of workers in a Maryland plant had abnormal nerve conditions in at least one hand, according to a 2015 report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
In 1921, the same year that Tulsa’s Black Wall Street was burned by white supremacists, there were nearly 1 million Black farmers across the U.S. In 2020, there are fewer than 50,000. Roughly 95% of U.S. farmers are white, while a disproportionate percentage of farmworkers are people of color. This unjust power imbalance is widespread and must be addressed.
According to Food and Water Watch, factory farm workers are subjected to increased exposure to air pollutants, including particulate matter carrying mold, animal dander and pathogens. Exposure to these pollutants can lead to respiratory illness. An estimated one quarter of hog confinement workers suffer from chronic bronchitis.
Tyson meatpacking plants reported on average one amputation per month in the first nine months of 2015.
If we replaced factory farming and disease-inducing animal-based food with diversified local farms and fresh plant-based food, we would increase resilience as well as create meaningful jobs and healthier citizens. We could save billions of dollars in healthcare costs every year through a whole-foods plant-based diet, which strengthens our immune function and quality of life while preventing chronic diseases that plague our nation. What’s more, this would reduce our risk of succumbing to illnesses like COVID-19 and help ward off the next zoonotic pandemic.
The working conditions in meat and poultry plants are so dangerous and inhumane that Human Rights Watch produced a 184-page report outlining the scope and magnitude of the problem. A summary of the findings includes:
"These are not occasional lapses by employers paying insufficient attention to modern human resources management policies. These are systematic human rights violations embedded in meat and poultry industry employment. Any single meatpacking or poultry processing company which by itself sought to respect the rights of its workers—and hence incurred additional costs—would face undercutting price competition from other businesses that did not. What is required are large scale changes to health and safety and workers’ compensation regulations and practices and greater protection of workers’ right to organize, in particular that of immigrant workers, throughout the meat and poultry industry.
To date, the industry as such has shown little inclination to work collectively to increase respect for workers’ rights, either through trade association standards or through joint support for legislative safeguards. But an equal or greater responsibility for halting workers’ rights violations in the meat and poultry industry lies with government at both federal and state levels. Unfortunately, as this report shows, the United States is failing on all counts. Health and safety laws and regulations fail to address critical hazards in the meat and poultry industry. Laws and agencies that are supposed to protect workers’ freedom of association are instead manipulated by employers to frustrate worker organizing. Federal laws and policies on immigrant workers are a mass of contradictions and incentives to violate their rights. In sum, the United States is failing to meet its obligations under international human rights standards to protect the human rights of meat and poultry industry workers."
Since this report was written, regulation has been passed to worsen conditions for slaughterhouse workers (increased line speeds).
"Veganism isn’t just about kicking a meat-eating habit and getting some veggies into your diet. It’s a powerful rejection of a racist food system and a racist, cannibalistic politics that characterizes animals and nonwhite people as disposable and consumable. This is why anti-racist theory matters in our efforts to free animals. The goal isn’t just to get people to replace chicken with tofu (although that’s a great start). The goal is to get the public to understand why animals matter on a political and ethical level. The goal is to reveal how the current power structure relies upon anti-Black and anti-animal ideologies to strengthen itself.”
-Aph Ko, an excerpt from Racism as Zoological Witchcraft: A Guide to Getting Out
Why We Don't See Slaughterhouses
or Factory Farms in Wealthy, White Neighborhoods
Among the corporations that harm the environment and the health of black and brown communities and low-income communities are those that run industrial pig farms. Research has shown that these pig farms are responsible for both air and water pollution, mostly due to the vast manure lagoons they create to hold the enormous amount of waste from the thousands of pigs being raised for food. Residents who live near these factory farms often complain of irritation to their eyes, noses, and throats, along with a decline in the quality of life and increased incidents of depression, tension, anger, confusion, and fatigue.
The contamination from North Carolina pig farms has yielded dangerous concentrations of groundwater nitrates, a leading cause of blue baby syndrome. Hydrogen sulfide has also caused noticeable increases in respiratory ailments near these sites. And because of the location of these industrialized farms, those affected most are low-income black and brown communities.
Corporations locate to these rural areas either believing that the residents do not have the political will and won’t present obstacles, or that these low-income residents need the jobs and will not complain. Also,because of the distinct connections between ethnicity and class in the United States, poor rural areas tend to house black and brown communities and the land in these areas is cheaper.
Workers and their families are the most severely affected, but community health is also a big concern. Runoff from factory farms—containing a wide range of pathogens, antibiotics, and other toxic chemicals—can permeate aquifers and contaminate surrounding groundwater sources.
Air pollution from factory farms poses risks to vulnerable members of the community, specifically children, the elderly, and individuals with pre-existing respiratory diseases. In particular, epidemiological studies on factory farm emissions show strong correlations between these pollutants and asthma. The results from surveys of rural North Carolina schools also showed strong correlations between asthma diagnoses and proximity to factory farms. Schools with a significant number of black and brown students (about 37%) and slightly less than half of the student bodies on reduced lunch programs were located an average of 4.9 miles from pig factory farms, yet schools with more white and higher-income students were found to be an average of 10.8 miles away. Significant correlations were also found between race, poverty, and the odor exposure from these pig factory farms.
Racial Bias in Dietary Guidelines
- Research has shown that lactose intolerance occurs in a majority of African-, Asian-, Hispanic-, and Native-American individuals. Whites are less likely to develop lactose intolerance and less likely to have symptoms when it does occur. Calcium is available in other foods that do not contain lactose. Osteoporosis is less common among African Americans and Mexican Americans than among whites, and there is little evidence that dairy products have an effect on osteoporosis among racial minorities.
- The USDA, however, continues to encourage daily intake of dairy for all Americans despite differences in tolerance, differences in risk for osteoporosis, as well as lack of scientific evidence of benefit. (published in the Journal of the National Medical Association)
- Many diet-related chronic diseases take a disproportionate toll among members of racial minorities. Research shows the prevalence of diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and heart disease is higher among various ethnic groups compared with whites. The USDA guidelines, however, promote the use of multiple servings of meats and dairy products each day and do not encourage replacing these foods with vegetables, legumes, fruits, and grains. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage a 30% caloric reduction in fat intake and make no provision for further reductions for those who wish to minimize health risks. Abundant evidence has shown that regular exercise combined with diets lower in fat and richer in plant products than is encouraged by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are associated with reduced risk of these chronic conditions. While ineffective Dietary Guidelines potentially put all Americans at unnecessary risk, this is particularly true for those groups hardest hit by chronic disease.
- In her 29-page paper entitled: The Unbearable Whiteness of Milk: Food Oppression and the USDA, by Assistant Professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa School of Law, Andrea Freeman writes:
"Although the USDA is a government agency, its operation model has developed over time into one more akin to a privatized corporation. Guided by principles of corporate neoliberalism, the USDA seeks to maximize the profits of the dairy industry or, at the very least, to minimize losses. A “revolving door” between USDA members and representatives of corporate entities, such as McDonald’s and the Dannon Institute, facilitates a close relationship between agency and industry. It also ensures a consistent flow of insider information to the USDA on how to build and maintain the corporate business model.
The USDA has little incentive to communicate information to consumers about the detrimental effects of dairy consumption, because this act makes the first goal more difficult to accomplish. It also threatens harmonious relations between the agency and the industry entrusted to it. Its institutional design thus leads the USDA to strategies that have a disparate impact along race and class lines."
Read this important work which was published in the UC Irvine Law Review by clicking here.
- The Congressional Black Caucus has complained about the “consistent racial bias” in the USDA Guidelines, as evidenced by their emphasis on milk products despite the lactose intolerance experienced by most African Americans.
- The loss of lactase enzymes after early childhood is the biological norm. Only among whites is lactase persistence common. The National Institutes of Health estimates 95 percent of Asians Americans, 60-80 percent of African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews, 80-100 percent of Native Americans, and 50-80 percent of Hispanics are lactose intolerant.
- The American Medical Association passed a resolution in 2018, recognizing that lactose intolerance is common among many Americans, especially African Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans, and recommending that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans indicate that 'dairy products are optional'.
- Substantial evidence links cow’s milk consumption to prostate cancer risk. African American men have the highest prostate cancer risk of any American demographic group, yet the USDA continues to promote dairy and even created DMI, a marketing branch and check-off program charged with increasing demand for U.S.-produced dairy products.
African Americans are almost three times more likely to die from asthma-related causes than the white population. African American children have a death rate 10 times that of non-Hispanic white children and are four times more likely to be admitted to the hospital. Studies show that dairy consumption can raise the risk for asthma and worsen symptoms. One 2015 study found that children who consumed the most dairy had higher odds of developing asthma, compared with the children consuming the least.
African Americans suffer asthma more often and more severely than Caucasian patients. However, clinical trials that have shaped treatment guidelines have included few African Americans.
Honoring, or Dishonoring, Females
*Why Dairy is Especially Problematic*
Imagine a more powerful species than humans came to Earth. Imagine they decided to lock up women for our entire lives, just for being women. First they only allow those of us who are the most docile to breed. They don't want anyone with feisty or independent temperaments to reproduce.
They repeatedly tie women up to something called a 'rape rack', put their hands, arms and cold instruments roughly and callously into our bodies without our consent. They impregnate us in this artificial way repeatedly, year after year after year.
We carry our baby in our wombs until birth, endure the physical pain of labor and birth, and then our baby is born. Maternal, caring hormones cascade into our blood stream. We want to nurse them, protect them, care for them. But, this other species takes our baby away. We want nothing more than to be with our baby. We lose our minds looking for them. They scream uncontrollably, crying for the familiar sounds and smells and warmth from which they were stolen. We cry too, sometimes trying to follow them and get them back, but sadly, there is nothing we can do because the other species is bigger and stronger and we are tethered by our neck to a metal bar.
Imagine for a moment the horror of this scene. Because this is the reality for dairy cows and goats, the perpetrator of this injustice is our own species. But their suffering and torture doesn't end there.
These cows are then hooked up to a machine regularly so the milk that belongs to their newborns can be stolen and sold for the benefit of humans. Exploiting everything that is divinely feminine and sacred, humans sacrifice their lives, and their babies, for ice cream, cheese, yogurt, and milk.
This continues to happen over and over. Most of these cows and goats spend their entire lives indoors, in tight confinement, on a concrete floor, with their breasts frequently hooked up to a machine, forced to produce more than twice the amount of milk they would naturally. This can lead to painful infections of the breast (mastitis) from which they receive no relief. Hairs are burned off their udders in a torturous act called "udder flaming." Tails are often cut off without anesthesia to provide easier access to the milk. This can lead to chronic pain, distress, and infection.
When their tired bodies and breasts lead to a decrease in secretions, these females are subjected to the final, horrifying chapter: a long, uncomfortable transport, often in extremes of heat and cold, often without food, water or rest for days at a time. In extremes of cold, some of these cows and goats freeze to the sides of the truck until workers pry them off with crowbars.
For the majority, this is the first time they are seeing daylight. Some are too exhausted to even stand by the time they reach the destination, which they can smell before they see. The smell of death and torture is clear, but most have no energy to fight, their weary bodies and spirits broken long ago. They have never in their short lives known an act of kindness nor freedom. They have never been able to nurture even one of their babies.
Those who don't walk out of the transport trucks willingly are dragged by chains or prodded by an electric prod in the face or even in the rectum. Finally, they are forced through a chute and shot in the head with a captive-bolt gun meant to stun, but because the lines move so quickly and many workers are poorly trained, the technique often fails to knock them unconscious. Some will have their throats slit, legs cut off, and other dismemberments happen while they are completely conscious.
They lived only a small fraction of a normal lifespan and are turned into ground beef.
The daughters they birthed will face the same fate. Many of the sons will go on to become veal calves.
Because of the way laws are written, most 'family farms' still have to send their cows to these slaughterhouses to be killed.
These are yet more reasons why we implore you to stop consuming animal products, especially dairy. For you, it is a few minutes of sense pleasure. For them, it is an entire lifetime of suffering, of loss, grief, and torture.
The cruel separation of mother and baby is an unavoidable fact of all dairy production, on all farms.
From a Rolling Stone article:
You’re a typical milk cow in America, and this is your life. You are raised, like pigs, on a concrete slab in a stall barely bigger than your body. There, you never touch grass or see sun till the day you’re herded to slaughter. A cocktail of drugs has grossly distended the size of your udder such that you’d trip over it if allowed to graze, which of course you’re not. Your hooves have rotted black from standing in your own shit, your teats are scarred, swollen and leaking pus – infected by mastitis – and you’re sick to the verge of total collapse from giving nearly 22,000 pounds of milk a year. (That’s more than double what your forebears produced just 40 years ago.) By the time they’ve used you up (typically at four years of age), your bones are so brittle that they often snap beneath you and leave you unable to get off the ground on your own power.
Please, choose non-dairy products at the grocery store. Remember, nothing tastes as good as compassion feels.
Globally almost 2,900 calories of food are produced for each of us. Yet, 1/4 of humanity suffers from food insecurity and 1/5 of the world's children are stunted, leading to lifelong harm.
Why is this? The animal agriculture industry takes from the poor and gives to the rich. Grains and plants foods that could feed people in impoverished areas are fed to cows, which will be consumed by people who are more privileged.
The environmental devastation caused by animal agriculture and the resulting climate crisis is hitting the poorest areas of the world (who consume the least amount of resources) first.
Americans are the top consumers of meat in the world. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we come in at 185 pounds per person of meat annually. The same study showed that we also ate a hearty 630 pounds of dairy per year including 31 pounds of cheese per person.
The average person worldwide uses roughly the equivalent of 2.7 of global hectares per year, whereas the average American clocks in at 6.8 global hectares. "You can imagine, if we all lived like Americans, it would be catastrophic," AsapSCIENCE's team concludes. In fact, we would need 4.2 Earths in order to sustain everyone living like an American."
The University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems estimates that it would take 5 Earths to support the human population if everyone’s consumption patterns were similar to the average American. In this regard, local, grass-fed beef takes up more space than factory farm meat.
Eating locally grown meat is using privilege in a way that disadvantages others by accelerating climate change and consuming more resources than necessary.
"Climate change is going to create severe poverty traps. Unless we address the climate change problem now, sustainable poverty reduction will remain a dream." Susmita Dasgupta, Lead Environmental Economist, UN.
"Nothing really compares to beef, lamb, pork, and dairy – these products are in a league of their own in the level of damage they typically do to the environment, on almost every environmental issue we track,” says Joseph Poore, a researcher at the University of Oxford who studies the environmental impacts of food.
You can literally help protect the future of Bangladeshis, by moving to a plant-based diet.
The factory farm industry has mercilessly lobbied against measures that would keep us and our food safe. Demanding faster line speeds at meatpacking plants and unnecessarily increasing risks for slaughterhouse workers, opposing restrictions on antibiotic use, and even refusing to provide workers with necessary protective equipment — this is just a tiny fraction of examples of how Big Ag puts profits before the lives of everyday people. When we purchase food generated by these systems, we are supporting this corrupt regime which continues to oppress the poor and put profit before health of people and planet.
Every day more and more meatpacking plants become ground zero for new outbreaks of coronavirus, and thousands of people are putting their lives on the line to keep these facilities functioning. Corporate agriculture has created this broken system, which constantly puts us at risk of another pandemic.
"People go hungry not from lack of food but from lack of political power. This lack of power arises from our brutal, extractive capitalism that celebrates the market as 'free but which really follows only one rule: do what creates the most wealth. Little wonder than that the US leads the world in daily caloric supply per person (about 3,700) and yet 40 million Americans worry about getting enough to eat. Or that economic inequality has become more extreme in America than in over 100 other countries. To fix our broken food system, let's fix our democracy.' ~Frances Moore Lappe, excrepted from Boston Globe Opinion piece, July 2020.
One of the best things we can do to ensure more fairness in sharing resources both within our own country and worldwide is to stop taking more than we need; stop eating in a way that consumes so many natural resources and which does so much damage; stop supporting our increasingly monopolized food system that threatens our land and its people by going vegan.
Adopt, Don't Shop
We (as a species) essentially created dogs by domesticating wolves to help us with certain tasks. Over the years, we created beings who had certain traits that were helpful to us. In return, the 'wolves' got fed. And they needed to get fed because we domesticated the wildness out of them. This was the social contract.
Fast forward to today. Almost one million dogs are killed every year in the U.S. alone simply because they don't have a home or anyone to care for them.
Yet humans continue to pay money contributing to the pipeline of new dogs. This is a violation of the social contract our species entered into, especially since we don't 'need' dogs to help us anymore. We are, for the most part, purchasing them purely for our own pleasure.
We often hear people say they want a puppy for their kids, or for themselves. We get it that puppies are cute. But is enjoying a few months of cuteness worth the trade-off of losing an opportunity to teach our kids (or ourselves) that literally saving a life is a privilege all its own? When we decide to honor a centuries old contract, there are benefits far beyond enjoying a few months of cuteness.
How we treat others is how we will be treated. We reap what we sow. Some version of this is incorporated into all religious/spiritual traditions. Dogs are sentient beings not widgets. When we order them up like we are ordering an inanimate object (I want a white one, cropped tail, short legs), this is a misunderstanding of a universal law. We are thinking of ourselves, what we want, not what might be best for the greater good.
We hear a lot these days about 'hypoallergenic dogs' which is a misnomer, essentially a marketing ploy. Certain breeds have a tendency to perhaps trigger less allergies, but these breeds already exist. We do not need to artificially create brand new beings, at great cost, for our own desire to have something novel. It's not a coincidence that we mostly see these 'designer breeds' in wealthy neighborhoods. This is another misuse of privilege and missed opportunity to be part of the solution to end suffering for others.
People sometimes express concerns that a rescued dog might have 'issues'. Again, we are dealing with living beings, who all will have 'issues' of one kind or another. No dog will be put up for adoption without at least some screening that they are not dangerous. And we have heard stories of plenty of purebred or designer dogs who had 'issues'.
The Fierce Vegans have both spent a lot of time with rescued animals.
Even if you love a specific breed, you can find a rescue organization looking to re-home dogs of this specific breed.
How we do anything is how we do everything. Please act with compassion whenever possible.
It's always possible.
If you're serious about social and environmental justice, then veganism is for you.